Ahiara Mbaise Catholic Diocese In Imo State Witnesses Second Priestly Ordination ,Seven Years after Bishopric succession crisis broke out .
BY UGONNA ANEJIONU:
Saturday, May 4, 2019, was another remarkable date in Ahiara Mbaise Catholic Diocese in Imo state. Sixteen indigenes who had earlier been ordained Deaconates in the diocese were ordained Priests. The ordination which took place inside the church known as Mater Ecclesiae Cathedral is the second since last year.
The new priests are: Unamba Bruno Chibuzo, Njoku Paschal, Nwogu Darlington, Eke Henry, Okafor Paul, Osuagwu Davidson and Anyanwu Pius. Others are : Ihejiere Walter, Nwaru Innocent, Umeyor Vitus, Odom Eusebius Chizoba, Iwueke Stephen, Okonko Chinonso, Anya Eric, Orih Primus, and Amaefule Joseph who was ordained for the Franciscans of our lady of the poor congregation, FLP.
The ordination exercised was carried out by Lucius Iwejuo Ugorji, Bishop of Umuahia diocese who was appointed by the pope as Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara Diocese, about two years ago. The ordination brings the total number of ordained priests in the diocese to 23, since the past seven years when the diocese was engulfed in leadership succession crises. Two deaconate ordinations by Bishop Ugorji had earlier taken place in Ahiara diocese.
The ordinations, indeed, are promises kept, by Bishop Ugorji. While celebrating his first mass in his capacity as the Apostolic Administrator at the Mater Ecclesiae Cathedral, Ahiara Mbaise, last year, Ugorji had promised to kick-off soon after, the ordination of seminarians who had, for over five years, been due, for elevation to become Deaconates and Priests. He also promised to commence the function of giving out the sacrament of Confirmation for qualified people in the diocese. According to traditions in the Catholic Church, only Bishops carry out the function of ordination of Deacons and Priests. Only Bishops are authorised to give out the sacrament of Confirmation.
The ordination ceremony was well attended. As early as 8am on the fateful day, verbatim magazine reporters who covered the ceremony observed that the cathedral premises in Nnarambia Ahiara had already been filled to the brim with all manner of people, ranging from the clergy, family members of the deacons who were to be ordained priests, their friends and well-wishers who came from far and wide and the entire Catholic faithful of the diocese. Over six hundred priests from within and outside the diocese were in attendance.
Austin B. Ekechukwu, President of Mbaise Priests Association was visibly happy, watching and participating in the ordination Mass. He explained to Verbatim in an interview after the church program that the event marked yet another turning point in the history of the diocese. He stated, with excitement, that the development will strengthen the faith of the people of the diocese also restore hope in the diocese of Ahiara, popular for its vitality, religiosity, unity and peace. Reverend Father Ekechukwu also praised the new priests for their patience and perseverance, when the diocese was faced with confusion and atmosphere of helplessness. He advised the new priests to be good fishers of men.
Ted Uwakwe, parish priest, at St Joseph’s Catholic parish, Ogbor Nguru told verbatim that he is happy at the success of the ordination and also, with the commitment of the apostolic administrator, Bishop Ugorji, towards maintaining peace in the diocese. He described the administrator as a man with special privileges from God as regards intelligence, sound health, hard work and kindness and prayed that God will always be with him.
Chizoba Eusebius Odom, one of the new priests told Verbatim that he is most grateful to God for giving him the grace to hang on till the end even when all hopes appear to be lost by many people , due to the prolonged crises and stalemate in the diocese. He expressed gratitude to his parents, family members and the entire catholic community who stood by him to the end.
Bruno Chibuzo Unamba, from Umuoda Nguru, another of the newly ordained priests described the entire development as dream come true. He told Verbatim that while the process of the ordination was prolonged, he was in prayers the will of God be done. ‘’It is a thing of Joy that my parents are alive to witness my ordination as a priest and my entire village are also happy with what the Lord has done’’, he said. Reverend Father Unamba thanked God for helping him to realize and achieve his calling, and promised that he will serve God with all humility and dedication. He also prayed for others who are yet to be ordained priests, asking God to help and strengthen them to realise their ambition too.
The Catholic Diocese of Ahiara in Mbaise,Imo State of Nigeria has been in the news for over seven years now. The church has been engulfed in leadership succession controversies, over the choice of a bishop after the death of Victor Adibe Chikwe, the first pioneer Bishop. Peter Ebele Okpaleke, a Priest from the Catholic Diocese of Awka in Anambra state who was appointed Bishop by the Pope, as replacement, against over 500 priests from Ahiara Diocese was rejected by the Church members in Ahiara Mbaise, who insisted, after citing trends from many places, that they must have an indigenous bishop.
This led to crises and stalemate in the diocese as the diocese was almost abandoned by the church leadership who denied them sacrament of confirmation for many who were due and willing to have. Seminarians from Ahiara Diocese who grew to become candidates for Deaconate and Priesthood were also denied ordination in the seven years that the crises raged.
Cardinal John Onaiyekan, of Abuja arch diocese was later appointed Apostolic Administrator of the diocese, pending when the matter would be resolved. He later resigned the position without solving the problem.
Shortly after, Peter Ebele Okpaleke, who was appointed as Bishop to replace late Bishop Chikwe also resigned after failing to take canonical possession of Ahiara Diocese.